If you ran into the quintet from “Rough Night” in a club and witnessed the antics on their crazy bonding weekend together, after five minutes you’d be signaling for the check and dashing for the exits.
If you rant into the quartet from “Girls Trip” in a club and witnessed the antics on their crazy bonding weekend together, after five minutes you’d want to join them on the dance floor or at least settle in at your table to see what they would do next.
The characters in the R-rated “Rough Night” were one-dimensional. Their actions were utterly implausible. Most of the women were thoroughly unlikable.
The characters in “Girls Trip” aren’t always three-dimensional and their actions aren’t always completely believable — but even in their worst moments, their humanity shines through and they are consistently likable.
Malcolm D. Lee’s “Girls Trip” isn’t the most original of reunion comedies. Some of the envelope-pushing gags are DOA, some bits playing out after their expiration dates. And with a running time of just over two hours, it feels a little overstuffed at times.
Ah, but when the jokes work the laughs come in ripples, and even the hit-and-miss routines are infused with energy and a cheerfully free-spirited political incorrectness. And thanks in large part to the winning performances from all four leads, the inevitable no-holds-barred, truth-telling confrontations and the moments of misty-eyed reconciliation and friendship affirmation are genuinely earned.
Nearly the entire movie is set at Essence Fest in New Orleans, where four best friends from college are getting together for the first time in half a decade.
Meet the “Flossy Posse,” as they call themselves. (They even have gold pendants and bedazzled jean jackets identifying themselves as charter members.)
Bestselling author and relationship guru Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall, a veteran of Lee films such as “The Best Man”) is the keynote speaker at the festival. Ryan and her husband Stewart (Mike Colter), a retired NFL great, have turned their marriage into a brand and are on the verge of signing a major endorsement deal that will include their own talk show.
Jada Pinkett Smith is Lisa, a single mom who hasn’t been with a man since her divorce two years ago.
Queen Latifah is Sasha, a former award-winning serious journalist now scratching out a living (and falling way behind on her bills) as a gossip blogger.
Tiffany Haddish is Dina, who lives each day as if it’s her last. She’s funny, fierce, loyal, hilarious — and she has a serious temper problem.
“Girls Trip” was filmed against the backdrop of a real Essence Fest. We get cameos by everyone from Diddy to Morris Chestnut to Mariah Carey. Director Lee does a solid job of dropping in the celebs in reasonable scenarios, and having the main characters react to them (and sometimes interact with them) in a way that doesn’t take us out of the movie. If anything, these scenes add to the film’s vibrant energy.
Of course long-held resentments will resurface and simmer and eventually explode. Of course various members of the Flossy Posse are hiding secrets or dealing with serious personal crises. Of course there’s a scene where they all trip out — but this is one of those rare times where a comedy successfully conveys the insanity of a hallucinatory experience for multiple laughs.
As the uninhibited, sexually aggressive, unapologetic Dina, Tiffany Haddish has the most scene-stealing bits and one-liners, and she knocks her role out of the park. It’s a breakthrough performance from an already well-respected comedic presence. (In one jaw-dropping bit, Haddish takes Auntie Angel’s infamous “grapefruiting” viral video to the next level. This scene alone would have earned “Girls Trip” a hard R rating.)
Some two decades after they co-starred in “Set It Off,” Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah are as reliable as ever onscreen. And Regina Hall gives one of her best performances as Ryan, who keeps on telling everyone you can “have it all” even as her own marriage tells a different story.
Larenz Tate is terrific as an old friend of Ryan’s who still might have a thing for her. Kofi Siriboe scores some laughs as a studly college student who hooks up with Pinkett Smith’s Lisa. Kate Walsh has a relatively thankless role as Ryan’s agent, who tries too hard to use lingo she “looked up in Urban Dictionary,” as one character puts it — but Walsh manages to give the character just a dash of heart and sweetness.
But this is the Flossy Posse’s movie from the get-go, and they’re more than capable of carrying the day. Don’t be surprised if this “Girls Trip” is such a success we’ll be rejoining the team for a “Ladies Trip” down the road.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Malcolm D. Lee and written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver. Rated R (for crude and sexual content throughout, pervasive language, brief graphic nudity, and drug material). Running time: 122 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.